by Pauline Salvucci
The challenge of living with chronic illness isn't always apparent when you're first diagnosed. This is just the beginning. It takes time to understand your illness, the treatment options available, and how living with illness will affect your life and the lives of your partner and family.
Being sick is like being on a roller coaster -- you can be up and hopeful one minute and down and doubtful the next. Your illness can take unexpected and unpredictable turns. One disease can dispose you to or give rise to another. This can be frightening as well as exasperating. Finding medication that works, being committed to following a good treatment plan and maintaining honest, direct and open communication with your healthcare providers takes time, energy and skill. But this is only part of the picture. Living with illness affects every part of your life and every significant relationship you have.
If you're still able to work, you find yourself in the position of having to make decisions about what and how much you tell your employer and coworkers, especially if your illness requires you to make time adjustments to your work schedule. Responding to and dealing with coworker's responses or reactions can be a challenge. Saying too much makes you vulnerable to unwanted questions, saying too little may raise questions of 'special treatment' and elicit criticism or even jealousy. Yet, not being able to work means giving up your role in the workforce as a productive employee -- and facing the economic changes and problems of not being able to financially provide for yourself or your family.
When you live with chronic illness, every aspect of life takes on a new dimension. Your daily decisions and choices are examined through a new lens, and you often find yourself carefully weighing the ramifications and possible outcomes of your choices. But, wait. Wasn't this the way it always was? Isn't this something all intelligent and responsible adults do? Yes, of course. However, living with chronic illness broadens the scope of that decision making process. The question isn't only how will this decision or choice affect you, but also, how will it affect your illness which in turn affects you and the choices and decisions you continually make.
Obviously, this is a demanding aspect of living with chronic illness. It's also the measure of your courage. Living with illness affords ample opportunity to be courageous in living your life to the best of your ability. Why is this so? Because when limitations and diminished control over the effects of illness are part of your daily life, your choices and decisions become the stuff from which courage emerges.
The fact is, if you're living with chronic illness you are courageous. In the process of meeting life's challenges, you have learned and are continuing to learn how to meet your fears and move beyond them. Perhaps you don't think of yourself as particularly courageous or even confident. Maybe it's time to take a closer look. These four questions will help you do that.
- What have you learned about yourself since you were diagnosed with a chronic illness?
- What initially held you back from learning these things about yourself?
- What did you learn from the times you felt most discouraged?
- What will your legacy be to those who know and love you?
No one knows the journey you and your illness have taken better than you do, and no ones knows more than you, the challenges you've met and the wins you've achieved. Acknowledge and embrace them. Celebrate your courage.
Pauline Salvucci, M.A. is a former licensed medical family therapist.